An Electoral Policy Consistent with Social Justice

Part 2 of Proposals for the 2020 US Elections

See Part 1.

A socialist electoral policy needs to take shape based on: (1) evaluations of the key players (Trump, the Republicans, the centrist Democrats, and the progressive Democrats); (2) social justice principles; and (3) appropriate strategy and tactics.

1st. Regarding the Republicans.

Almost all Republican politicians, some happily and others reluctantly, are overwhelmingly backing Trump as he persists in his bigoted rightwing populist demagoguery and his racist, xenophobic, misogynist, and other antisocial policies.

2nd. Regarding the Democrats

Responding to widespread popular discontent, the few social-liberal reformer politicians in the Democratic Party have rejected neoliberal economic policy and are advocating widely-popular new-deal type reforms (healthcare as a human right, Green New Deal, restoration of collective bargaining rights, and other social-justice reforms) which would increase people power and put much-needed constraints on capital. Their contenders for the Presidency (Sanders, Warren, and Gabbard) have also expressed some opposition to overt military interventions to achieve regime change, but their records on imperialism and militarism are decidedly mixed.

Bernie Sanders has the best record of seeking cuts in military spending, but he backs the $1.5 trillion Lockheed-Martin F-35 stealth fighter plane. He branded Libya’s Gaddafi as a “thug and murderer” shortly before US-backed thugs proceeded to oust and murder the Libyan ruler and plunge their country into chaos; and, while disapproving Trump’s economic siege and threatened military intervention, he has sided rhetorically with the US-imperialist-backed rightwing <em>coup</em>-seeking opposition to the Bolivarian government of Venezuela by misrepresenting that said government is “undemocratic”.1

Tulsi Gabbard is the one explicit opponent of regime-change interventions, but she voted for the majority of military spending bills and against repeal of the intervention-promoting 2001 <em>Authorization for the Use of Military Force</em>, which effectively authorizes such regime-change operations.1

Elizabeth Warren advocates cutting the “bloated defense budget”, but she voted for 2/3 of the military spending bills since she has been in the Senate. She expresses a preference for more emphasis on diplomacy in foreign affairs, but she vocally backed Israel’s 2014 so-called “war” (actually mass murder) against Gaza. While her rhetoric has subsequently moved away from the aggressive stance of her centrist Democrat rivals, she has not clearly repudiated the imperial bipartisan foreign policy consensus.1

The centrists, including the Presidential contender (Biden) and ex-contenders (Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Harris, Booker, Castro, O’Rourke, Steyer, Bloomberg, etc.) have acquiesced to much of the neoliberal policy thru their subservience to capital and are mostly in opposition to more than marginal reforms. These centrists also: join the bipartisan new-cold-war anti-Russia and anti-China consensus; condemn Trump for undermining the imperialistic alliances; are firmly committed to the bipartisan imperial foreign policy agenda; and mostly insist upon essentially blank-check backing for the Zionist state as it continues to perpetrate its crimes against the Palestinian, Syrian, and Lebanese Arabs.1

3rd. Relevant distinctions among Democrats

The parties and candidates. Obviously, the left must oppose Trump and the Republicans, but that does not necessarily mean supporting the Democrats. Given the unwillingness of any of the Democrat candidates (and ex-candidates) for President to make a complete break from the deep-rooted bipartisan imperial foreign-policy consensus, and given their unwillingness, with the exception of the social liberal reformers, to make much of a break from neoliberal economic policy, there will undoubtedly be negatives in whichever contender the Democrats choose to run for President. Nevertheless, the Democrats fall into two categories.

Any of the centrist candidates (now reduced to Biden) for commander-in-chief would be less blatantly odious than Trump; but, given their records and despite their promises, they could not be relied upon to be more than marginally better substantively, on social-justice reforms especially with respect to the many issues (environmental policy, healthcare as a right, collective bargaining, regulation of capitalist enterprise, social programs, etc.) where the need conflicts with capitalist domination and profiteering. They would be less bad than Trump on some aspects of foreign policy, but worse on some others. Most importantly, they would induce most of the popular anti-Trump movement to continue giving its allegiance to the centrist-dominated Democratic Party, which remains overwhelmingly subservient to capital and firmly committed to the militarist and imperialist foreign policy consensus. Finally, beholden as they are to their capitalist campaign-funders, they would obstruct, as much as possible, efforts to empower the people or to constrain capital or to deal effectively with global warming.

The relative progressives (now reduced to one, namely Sanders) do not oppose private-enterprise capitalism; but they appear to genuinely want: a more dovish and less interventionist foreign policy; and real people-power and capital-constraining reforms, as well as stronger defense of human rights.

4th. Strategic objectives

The primary objective for revolutionaries is not ameliorative reforms, but the building of the revolutionary movement. The objective of that movement as stated by Marx and Engels [in the <em>Manifesto</em> (1848)] must be to “raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class, to win the battle of democracy.” It is only after the progressive working class with its allies has conquered the state power, that it can then: effectuate the socialist reconstruction of the civil society; and thereby replace the predatory capitalist social imperative (the selfish pursuits of private profit and private accumulation of wealth) with the socialist imperative (the satisfaction of human and social needs).

In order to build that revolutionary movement, revolutionaries must engage with the people in their struggles for reforms, but revolutionaries must not permit the reform agenda to be confined to palliatives bestowed upon passive beneficiaries by paternalistic agents of the reformist faction of the ruling capitalist class in order to temporarily ameliorate immediate popular discontents. Rather, insofar as possible, activists must: demand reforms which empower the people. People empowerment includes: collective bargaining, litigation rights, citizen initiatives, public participation and oversight, FOIA access, voting rights, civil liberties, human rights enforcement, etc. Revolutionaries must also demand measures which reduce and constrain the powers of the ruling capitalist class: effective public-interest regulation of for-profit businesses, ending and reversing privatizations, expanded public services and social welfare programs, bans on corporate money in election campaigns, restraints upon the powers and reach of the repressive state apparatus, etc.

An assessment, that progressive candidates, if elected, may be unable to deliver on their progressive reforms, should not be taken as excuse to oppose or abstain from advocating for their election. Elections, like all reform struggles, are a venue in which revolutionaries seek to influence the populace and recruit activists to the revolutionary movement. Revolutionaries must educate and organize, which they can do only if they connect with people thru engagement in struggles for social justice (which include election campaigns for advocates of transformative progressive change, as advocated by Sanders, but opposed by Biden). Such education must include: the need for solidarity with all victims of social injustice including foreign victims of US imperialism; and also the need for reforms which increase people power and/or reduce the powers of capital. In pursuit of these objectives, revolutionaries should organize a Social Justice Solidarity Voters [SJSV] bloc with a comprehensive program of social justice demands (with respect to issues of: economic justice, environmental justice, racist and sexist and all other violations of human rights, civil liberties, militarism and imperialism) and proceed as described (in 5th) below.

(For a fuller explanation of revolutionary strategy, see referenced article2 )

5th. Electoral tactics

♦ In the Democratic caucuses and primaries. Call upon participants: to demand support for the comprehensive social justice program (as noted in 4th above and including concrete opposition to militarism, imperialism, and neoliberalism); and to reject candidates whose policies will alienate those true progressives who are genuinely committed to that program. The rationales being: principle (social justice); and pragmatic (the need to bring over leftist voters who justifiably will refuse to vote for another duplicitous imperial and capital-serving Democrat, as well as struggling workers who will not be motivated to vote without reason to believe that the outcome can positively affect the situations of people like themselves).

♦ In the general election for President. If the Democrats were to select a social liberal (e.g. Sanders) for commander-in-chief; and if that candidate could credibly be expected to seriously push for people-power and capital-constraining reforms, and also for significant curtailment of the current militarism and imperial interventionism [⁑]; it would be appropriate to back said candidate provided that this were done tactically, independently, and with appropriate criticisms. (For example, an apt slogan would be “Sanders – not perfect, but clearly progressive”.)

So, what if the Democrats nominate an imperial corporate Democrat (Joe Biden)? From the standpoint of ameliorative reformism, the primary objective will, as always, be to defeat the Republicans and put the center-left (actually centrist-dominated) Democrats in control of the federal government. Contrarywise, from the standpoint of genuine social revolutionaries, the primary objective remains to build the revolutionary movement. Thus, a policy seeking to defeat Trump at all costs (even including abandonment of social-justice principles and of solidarity with the multitudes of victims of US imperialism) cannot be justified, although this will undoubtedly be disputed by those who mistake the Democratic Party as a savior of “democracy” and social progress. (If the “socialist” proponents of supporting Biden were to campaign with an honest slogan, it would have to be something like “Biden – duplicitous flip-flopper, staunch imperialist, candidate for big business, but not as blatant as Trump”.)

Can backing a neoliberal imperialist Democrat for commander-in-chief be formulated in a way which is consistent with the revolutionary socialist objective and not perpetuate the failed policy of reliance upon lesser-evil Democrats? Given how blatantly vicious Trump is, revolutionary socialists may prove unable to achieve consensus on this question. However, his viciousness should not be the deciding factor. If revolutionaries are to back a neoliberal imperial Democrat (such as Biden) for commander-in-chief, they need to be able to make the case that so doing will facilitate building the revolutionary movement and not perpetuate reactive lesser-evil-ism (along with the extreme viciousness in the reality of militarism and imperialism).

Can they validly make that case? Their assertion, that the Trump Presidency portends the coming of an “authoritarian fascist” state or the suppression of left activism, is clearly contrary to fact. All that remains of their argument is the fact that centrist Democrats (with their grossly inadequate reforms) are, in the short-term, somewhat less bad for most people in the US than the Republicans. They evade the facts: that Democrat policies (under Carter, Clinton, and Obama) have done little or nothing to improve the lives of women, minorities, and workers (with the exception of some in the educated middle class3; and that some of their policies have made things worse for millions of the most disadvantaged Americans. Moreover, Democrats have been equally (with Republicans) committed to the militarism and imperial interventionism which: has subjected many millions of people in other countries to extreme privation and often murderous violence, and has produced the new cold wars which threaten nuclear Armageddon. Finally, backing Biden or any other centrist is <em>de facto</em> support for the centrist program (which is militarist, imperialist, anti-people-power, subservient to capital, and opposed to the progressive reforms sought by Sanders and other social liberals). In fact, the proponents of backing a centrist Democrat against Trump, as a “socialist” policy or one which saves “democratic space” for progressive activists, have no case.

Because the case for backing a centrist Democrat for President cannot be validly made, revolutionaries should organize a voter boycott of any such Presidential nominee, educate all who will listen as to the justification for so doing, and use the situation to continue building the organized revolutionary movement. If it comes to this, it will obviously require patiently and respectfully swimming against a heavy adverse tide in the broad left which is deeply addicted to its long allegiance to the Democratic Party (either as savior or as lesser-evil). Nevertheless, the appropriate policy often requires such. The alternative, i.e. tailing after the masses when they are misled by agents of capital (i.e. centrist Democrat politicians and the mainstream media), is easy but counterproductive. In any event this decision should be based on soundly reasoned fact-based analysis rather than emotion. (Realistically, it will take time, likely years, to build the revolutionary movement to such strength that it can be much of a force in national elections; but putting off this essential task with whatever excuses means never achieving it.)

[⁑ Note. A completely progressive foreign-policy program (which no current Democrat Presidential candidate can credibly be expected to embrace more than partially) would include the following.

  • Arms control. Return to the arms control treaties which the US quit (under Bush-Cheney and Trump), no development of new nuclear bombs; no militarization of space; restoration of the prohibition on use of land mines; massive cuts to military spending (especially of warships, expensive warplanes, etc.).
  • No new cold war. End containment policies (military alliances, war games, etc.) near the borders of Russia and China; end Western intervention in the civil war in Ukraine; accept the will of the Crimean populace for reunification with Russia; comply with the 1990 US-NATO commitment that NATO would not expand into any former Warsaw Pact countries nor engage in military operations on their territories; dissolve NATO and other imperial military alliances.
  • End economic sieges and regime-change operations against countries targeted because of their refusal to comply with Western imperial dictates. Return to the Iran nuclear agreement; negotiate a peace treaty with North Korea; close the Guantanamo base and prison and return the occupied territory to Cuba; stop the US-abetted Saudi and UAE war in Yemen.
  • Offer constructive assistance to help countries peacefully achieve just resolutions of their civil and international conflicts.
  • End the bogus “terrorist”-designation of anti-imperialist resistance organizations (including Hezbollah, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad).
  • End all support (diplomatic, economic, and military) for the Zionist state; and demand that it: end its occupation of Syrian and Lebanese territory, end its military aggressions against its neighbors, end all of its violations of UN resolutions and international human rights conventions, transition to a democratic all-Palestine state which will fully respect the human rights (including fair compensation and right of return) of the Palestinian Arabs including those dispossessed by the nakba.
  • ♦ In the 2020 general election for Congress. Tactically support Democrats (including the neoliberal imperialist types) to the extent necessary to obtain Democrat control of Congress, the rationale being as follows. Although this will not end Congressional support for the imperial foreign policy consensus, it will NOT place commander-in-chief powers in their hands, and it will impose some needed constraints on Trump should he be reelected. If the Democrats win the Presidency with a progressive (such as Sanders), a Democrat Congress will improve chances for some limited portion of the SJSV demands and people-empowering and capital-constraining reforms to be obtained. Such backing will need to be accompanied by explanation as to the tactical rationale as well as all appropriate criticism of the endorsed candidates. Provided that it is presented as tactical, this policy would serve the movement-building objectives stated above.

    ♦ State elections. In states where governors and legislators control redistricting, and control of the process is in question; the SJSV bloc should tactically back the Democrat candidates for the offices which will make the redistricting decisions. This is to prevent Democrats from being shut out of power by GOP gerrymandering; and that is desirable because Democrats are more dependent upon support from progressive voters and thusly more easily pressured by the left. In other state and local races, the bloc should bring pressure to bear by generally withholding support from those Democrats who refuse to comply with reasonable demands for their adherence to the SJSV program.

    ♦ If the Democrats take the Presidency and Congress but refuse to make meaningful departures from the current foreign policy agenda and/or from neoliberal economic policy; then vigorously oppose those obstructers who face reelection come 2022.

    Ω The objectives of the foregoing tactical policy are: that, in electoral activity, socialists must act independently of both capital-serving political parties; and that they should use the Democrat politicians and not allow the progressive left to be used by said Democrats.

    Ω. Principles

    Socialists must be pragmatic and must make appropriate compromises, but never sacrifice social justice principles. Rank-and-file Democrats, who are uneducated as to the multifarious ways in which most Democrat politicians betray the progressive principles which they avow, can be forgiven for giving allegiance to such Democrats. However, avowed socialists and progressive activists, who know or should know the facts but nevertheless give allegiance to such antisocial Democrat politicians, betray their avowed anti-racist, anti-imperialist, and progressive pretentions. The obligation of socialists is to educate the rank-and-file progressives and separate them from their duplicitous politicians.

    1. Medea Benjamin & Nicolas J S Davies, “War and Peace and the 2020 Presidential Candidates” (2019 Mar 27). Bernie Sanders, “Sanders Statement on Venezuela” (2019 Jan 24). Doug Enaa Greene, “Not on our side: On Bernie Sanders and imperialism” (2019 Jun 27). Norman Solomon, “Joe Biden: Puffery vs. Reality” (2019 Apr 25). Norman Solomon, “Corporate Team of Rivals: Biden and Harris” (2019 Jul 10). [] [] [] []
    2. Charles Pierce, “Why ameliorative reformism and lesser-evil-ism is failed strategy and what is the winning alternative!” (2020 Feb 16). []
    3. Indigo Olivier, “A Feminism for the Working Class” (2020 Mar 05). Sara Rimer & Karen W Arenson: “Top Colleges Take More Blacks, but Which Ones?” (2004 Jun 24). []
    Charles Pierce is: a working-class retiree, a past union steward and local union officer, and currently a researcher and writer on history and politics. Read other articles by Charles, or visit Charles's website.